There’s a light breeze on my face and skin and sand squishes between my toes as I walk. The repetitive sound of the ocean laps at the shore and at times surprises me with a cool rush of water around my ankles. It’s early morning and only a few surfers and other early risers are sharing the start of this new day. As the sky turns all sorts of red and pink and the sun begins it’s ascent into the sky, my body and eyes receive a morning dose of light. I feel relaxed and calm but also fresh with a sense of exhilaration and excitement for what the day will bring.
What is it about being in nature that makes us feel so good? And, can spending more time in nature actually improve our health and help us age better?
In our modern world where we increasingly experience ‘nature deprivation’ due to constantly being ‘connected’ to the internet or our phones and we are often confined to the concrete jungles of cities, research is beginning to suggest that connecting to the natural world may be part of the solution to reducing much of the inflammation, stress and disease that afflicts society, particularly as we age.
The benefits of spending time in nature are increasingly being investigated and there seems to be few downsides. Studies show that our blood pressure and stress hormone levels may lower and our immune system function can be enhanced – resulting in reduced risk of diseases such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But more than that, feeling a part of nature can significantly improve vitality, mood and mindfulness.
Terms such as ‘ecotheraphy’ and ‘ecophsychology’ are now part of an emerging field of psychology where the outdoors is viewed as a natural healer. Clinicians utilise a variety of outdoor experiences as part of a preventative and restorative health strategy
Studies so far all point in one direction – nature is not just nice to have, but a must have for both physical and mental health. To consider that by immersing ourselves in what is generally a free experience, we can gain health benefits that no pill so far developed can offer, seems so simple but also so amazingly wonderful.
Is there a ‘best way’ to obtain nature benefits?
As with all aspects of health, it’s important to find what works best for your individual body and mind. However, one benchmark for the optimal time spent in nature is 120 minutes or more per week. What do you think? Is the investment of 2 hours of your week, where you just wander or sit or relax in nature, worth immediate and long term health benefits? For me, the answer is a resounding YES!
There are many ways we can do this – whether that’s at a local park or beach or somewhere far away from anywhere.
Personally, I like to use the term ‘wilding’ to describe my intentional time spent in nature. Walking on the beach is where I feel my very best and most happy. However, I also love hiking and being in the mountains. And, don’t get me started on the benefits of camping without power or reliable phone service for a couple of weeks. I do this every summer and come back feeling and looking fit, healthy and totally revived. My circadian rhythms reset after waking at first light and going to sleep at dark exhausted from moving all day in the outdoors. I hope to be ‘wilding’ my way into healthy old age.
Familiar with earthing or forest bathing?
Earthing (or grounding) refers to walking barefoot outside where the Earth’s electrons transfer from the ground into the body, possibly providing health benefits including better sleep and reduced pain. Earthing can be complex but simply for me, this means walking barefoot on the beach – it feels good.
Japanese, Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” is a poetic name for spending time in the forest, either sitting, lying down or just walking around. There are now even Forest Therapists who are trained to expose participants to a sensory experience as they walk in nature slowly and mindfully so that all senses are engaged.
Intuitively I think we all know that nature is good for us, though at times, we may discard this simple health strategy as less important than something we must purchase.
However, perhaps it’s time for a rethink and to consider adding wilding, earthing, forest bathing or simple a walk in a local park into our schedules. Then, turn off our phone and actually immerse ourselves fully, so that we can truly appreciate the multi-sensory experiences and healthy ageing benefits that mother nature provides.